Thursday, July 10, 2008

China's PR Mess

China's PR machine is struggling seriously.

China killed 5 "militants" today in Xinjiang. Now, these guys might actually be bad guys, but they were not rounded up for trial, just shot. The Chinese PR machine did not make any attempts to say that the "militants" were hurting other people or even resisting arrest when shot, just that they were shot. This makes a lot of Westerners feel queasy about the state's way of dealing with its internal problems.

Now, my Chinese friends, I know you are going to say "these are our problems! You should not care about how we deal with them!" It's true there's no cassus belli for such things, but it's the sort of thing that still makes people uncomfortable. We didn't like the Soviets for starving their own Ukranians to death or slaughtering their own political dissidents, and we're not going to like wanton killing without a justice system, and we're going to reserve that right. Anyway.

China has proudly announced, further, arrests of lots of individuals trying to sabotage the Olympics. Chinese media are very short on details of the plot, of the particular crime committed (though we can guess it's conspiracy to do something). They also announced the "three evils" of "terrorism, separatism, and extremism." Now, most Westerners don't like terrorism or even extremism, but we don't tend to think of people who want their own country (that is, separatists) as necessarily evil. Terror tactics to get it? Totally. But not just standing against the unity of a set of borders described by the government. The Chinese government and media's branding of anyone-who-wants-a-different-country alongside terrorists sounds like very crude political exploitation. Using the "terorrism" brand to win US support for something hasn't worked since 2002. Using "the Olympics" as an public excuse for human rights abuses has never worked.

So I am not sure who is orchestrating the Chinese Public Relations machine. But the Chinese government clearly is in a state of reassurance to its neighbors (along with a tough stance on what it sees as threats to its own interests), but its media blunders are not helping this policy. Further, angry reactions to Western perceptions caused largely by such media blunders make the Chinese state look aggressive and adolescent.

Here at Foggofwar, we suggest finding a new PR team. Email me if you've got an offer.
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